variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, is actually most relevant to humans. Each day we reap its many benefits. In fact, in monetary terms these benefits are estimated at $125 trillion per year¹. Biodiversity is what keeps ecosystems and habitats in balance and able to perform different services, ranging from the nutrient cycle and water purification to pest control and pollination². In their totality, these services play a role in maintaining not only health ecosystems but also healthy people.
Given how much biodiversity is already doing for us, it is only fair to explore ways in which we can repay the service. So here are five factors that help increase biodiversity and what you can do to help out:
International agreements such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have supported the creation of protected areas while regional agreements such as the EU’s Natura network as well as national legislation have acknowledged the importance of protected areas and set up different ones³. These areas, identified on the basis of scientific research, are inhabited by rare species that are increasingly under threat or which serve a unique ecological or environmental function, such as coral reefs. Protected areas should be designated and effectively managed to protect the ecosystem and the organisms living there. Today, protected areas across the globe cover around 15% of our land, about 10% of the coastal and marine areas within national jurisdiction, and 3.4% of our oceans⁴. While their effectiveness varies from country to country, it is important to continue efforts to promote protected areas. Where protected areas have been effectively legislated and managed, biodiversity loss has been halted and resilience to climate change enhanced⁵.
Any citizen can help by supporting action to designate appropriate areas as well as support the organisations managing these sights. You can donate directly to help their activities by visiting a local reserve or national park!
Stop invasive alien species
Nothing can be more destructive to an ecosystem than the introduction of a new species. Invasive alien species are non-native plants or animals that are introduced accidentally or deliberately into an ecosystem where they are not normally found, with serious negative consequences for that ecosystem. An EU-funded project was conducted to estimate the prevalence of alien species in the EU and concluded that there are already over 12,000 alien species present in Europe, of which 10–15% are invasive⁶. An example illustrating the detrimental impact of invasive alien species is the case of the yellow-legged hornet, native to South East Asia and introduced through horticultural trade in 2005. It has now spread to France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium where it has led to significant beehive losses; France alone had noted losses of 14,000 honey bees per hive per month⁶.
Generally, native and local species can also offer more ecosystem services. For example, the University of Delaware ran a tree ranking project ad found that native oaks support more than 500 different species of insects, while Ginkgo, a common choice for street trees, only supports three⁷.
So what can you do to ensure that local biodiversity is not impacted by invasive alien species? Very simply, you can help limit the spread of invasive alien species in your garden and instead plant local ones.
Opt for sustainable agricultural methods
Agriculture had a tremendous impact on biodiversity. Intensive and monoculture farming depletes soil nutrients but it also strips the cultivated land from a range of organisms that help fight the spread of pests. Sustainable agriculture practices support integrating biodiversity in various ways including in terms of diversity of crops, traditional agriculture techniques to control pests and increase productivity as well as ensuring that farmed land is made up of a diverse mix of grazing land, crop land, orchards, wetlands and managed forests.
While a lot of modern agriculture produce is not grown under these conditions, certified organic products often follow one or more of the aforementioned practices. So when you can, go organic!
Just as diversity in agriculture is important for biodiversity, diversity in flora and fauna more generally is also very important. But sometimes the damage is so extensive that local ecosystems and critical species are completely or almost extinct in the wild. In such cases, and when corroborated by sound scientific evidence, authorities may consider “rewilding” specific areas. “Rewilding” involves restoring connectivity between otherwise fragmented protected areas and the reintroduction of local predators. For instance, in 2013 eight European bison were released into the wild in the Bad Berleburg region of Germany, an area where they had been extinct for the last 300 years⁸.
Green infrastructure is an approach that seeks to marry modern development and infrastructure projects with biodiversity conservation. If when we make plans for building roads, railways and bridges we assess the impacts for local biodiversity and adapt our plans to minimise those, this will go a long way to helping increase biodiversity. For example, in urban areas properly designed parks, urban gardens, green roofs and walls can contribute to biodiversity⁹. Similarly, green bridges and eco-ducts cannot only help biodiversity but they can also reduce accidents involving wild animals and cars which can amount to several million euros each year.